The article ‘Transgender children know their identity. Bigots in the media don’t’ was published on the 25th May 2014.
This piece was written by a parent of a child believed to have gender dysphoria-a child who was born male and who is now living ‘as a girl’. This is a response to some of the points raised-not as a criticism of the individual case involved, but analysis of the general issues raised.
The article begins:
‘My seven-year-old child, although born male-bodied, has expressed herself as a girl since she could walk and talk. That expression translated into an articulation at age four that she was a girl “stuck inside the wrong body”. Reinforcing boyhood for our child began to lead to distress, upset and anxiety. What did we do? We kept reinforcing boyhood. What happened then? We found ourselves with a five-year-old who talked about wanting to die rather than be a boy. A five-year-old with a fascination for butterflies and caterpillars and mermaids who began talking about suicide …’
The question is how does a boy express himself ‘as a girl’? The real expression of being a young female is complex and diverse, unless you perceive that experience as specific behaviour and choices linking to extremely limited gender expectations. If so, the definition of any boy expressing himself ‘as a girl’ is based on nothing more than gender stereotypes-choices of toys, dress and/or behaviour that fit the narrow gender definition of what is expected of female child ‘femininity’ instead of male child ‘masculinity’. What is ‘Reinforcing boyhood’ ? Society projects that which is acceptably ‘masculine’ and that which is acceptably ‘feminine’, assigned by biological sex. All children are brainwashed into these ‘gender rules’ through socialization and being part of a world which engulfs us all with certain gendered expectations, which we then process.
Of course many children exist who do not/can not conform neatly to these ‘ideals’, expressing themselves in whatever way is comfortable for them. This is entirely natural and normal. In a society which so viciously enforces specific gendered identities however, children/parents may be extremely distressed and will seek answers to somehow ‘not fitting in’.
The article continues:
‘The issue at stake for children such as ours appears to be firmly rooted in a gender identity not congruent with their natal sex: a condition called gender dysphoria’.
‘Gender identity’ is not innate, nor does anyone preform neat expressions of being male or female. Gender ideals are socially constructed which we as individuals then absorb, process and are heavily encouraged/influenced to act out according to our sex. These differ from culture to culture and throughout history.
The article states:
‘And yet, many people insist that any divergence away from a gender identity that does not match biological sex according to a strict binary of male and female is pathological or a deviation’.
By suggesting a boy is defined as expressing himself ‘like a girl’ presumably on the grounds of his own natural behaviour/choices, is actually endorsing strict and restricting ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ roles connected to biological sex. His actions are not perceived as ‘masculine’, therefore the conclusion is he is in fact…… ‘a girl’. It is this premise which is limiting and damaging as it emphasizes gender stereotypes and does not allow any natural deviation from limiting and oppressive gender expectations.
The article then states:
‘….the world doesn’t seem to accept that our gender and our core sense of self is rooted in our minds and not between our legs.‘
Our biological sex is defined (unless we are intersex) by our biology. Concepts of gender however, associated with that biological sex with specific and limiting expectations concerning behaviour, choices, voice, attitude, dress codes etc, are rooted in culture. This in turn gives us a blueprint for behaviour which greatly influences and impacts on our lives. It is actually the potential reaction to a deviation from this, such as social pressures, bullying, rejection, violence etc which causes many individual’s suffering. It is therefore this we should be challenging.
The article states:
‘The reality is that far more children who need puberty suppressants are not being prescribed them than are. …..Many who would benefit from this treatment actually do not receive it.’
If a child grows up surrounded by the damaging dichotomy of ‘masculine=male and feminine =female’, then not fitting neatly into such patterns will of course potentially cause them great anxiety. However, possible dangerous medical interventions such as suppressing puberty with hormone blockers, which may have lifelong negative physical and psychological impacts, are not the answer to society’s oppressive enforcement of gender rules on children. The drugs used have raised many concerns about brain development, fertility and bone growth etc….
Such procedures automatically define the child as the focus- ‘the problem’, perceived as needing medical attention in order for them to fit neatly-one way or another-into society’s ideas of gender normality. This is not the answer. We as a society must challenge the reasons why gender ideals both limit and oppress so many children and stop the idea that altering their lives with labels, life changing potentially dangerous medical interventions, drugs etc is the solution.